Sermon: “Not the Christ we want, but the Christ we need”

Second Sunday in Lent – B 2021

Mark 8: 27-38

Jesus   is not the Christ that we sinners wanted, but he is the Christ we sinners needed. 

Here in the middle of Mark’s Gospel, we heard Jesus ask his disciples who everyone thought that he was. Some people thought he was Elijah, the prophet taken up in the clouds who was said to return. Others thought he was John the Baptizer risen from the dead. People had witnessed him do amazing miracles, they heard his remarkable preaching. 

But he was still just an otherwise ordinary man, from the unimportant town of Nazareth. We know today that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah, but for those Jews, it might have been difficult to imagine the Christ being anything but a powerful king on a throne in Jerusalem. Jesus of Nazareth just didn’t have the right look, it didn’t make sense for him to be the Christ, at least for most observers then on the outside. He should have been the son of a Pharisee, or at least of a scribe or rabbi. Certainly we know many of the Pharisees, rabbis, and scribes weren’t all that impressed with him!

For the 12 apostles nearest to him, they had more inside knowledge. So when Jesus asked them directly, who do you say that I am, Peter was able to answer, likely on behalf of the whole group, correctly. “You are the Christ!”. And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

It is always uncomfortable to hear Jesus tell them that. But if we just keep reading, it becomes very clear why Jesus ordered this secrecy for now. 

Jesus   is not the Christ that we sinners want, but he is the Christ we sinners need. 

The thrill of Peter’s great confession would have been short lived amidst the disciples. Not only did Jesus order silence about this great news, then he told them what it really meant.

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. 

Imagine the disciples reaction. This isn’t right! What are we following you for, what did we leave our day jobs for? We just named you as the Christ, the rightful King of God’s people, and now you’re talking about death. 

And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” 

Jesus   is not the Christ that we sinners want, but he is the Christ we sinners need. 

Jesus being the Christ does us no good if we do not set our minds on  the things of God. He will never be the kind of savior that sinful flesh of man desires. He’s not the typical champion. People won’t be jumping on his bandwagon when they hear what he has to say about himself: 

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 

This is not a popular message. This is the part of Christianity that St. Paul called folly, “foolishness”, to the world. Who wants to  follow a savior that is going to give himself up to be killed? How can we be saved by someone who is going freely to die on the cross, and instructs us to do likewise?

We’ve already been told why. We must have in mind the things of God, and not things of man.

Jesus continued:  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? Man has in mind gaining the world in this life, and is not so concerned with our eternal life.

 For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

No wonder Jesus told his disciples to keep silent about him being the Christ. Even his apostles weren’t ready yet to understand this Gospel, this good news, which to our mortal ears, may not sound all that good.

We deal with this even today. Jesus  is not the Christ that we sinners want, Plenty of people have no problem saying they love Jesus. But they want Jesus to be their motivator, their example to have a better life here and now. We want Jesus to be our general leading a conquest against the unbelieving world, and we want to fight zealously at his right and left hand. But what we want from Jesus is not what we need.

We all would have been backing Peter up when he tried to correct Jesus. No one doubts Peter’s good intentions. But Jesus’ answer to Peter, and really to all of us, is the same. Get behind me Satan!

Truly, if Jesus came to be the Christ as we wanted, we would all be headed straight to Satan and his gates of hell. It is difficult for our sinful flesh to ever have in mind anything but satisfying our flesh, we never naturally have in mind the things of God.

We do not follow our Lord for glory in this world. Our Lord did not have a glorious life here, at least according to the world, and he never promises to give us one either if we follow him. Jesus came not to be the Christ that we want, but to be the Christ that we need. St. Paul said it eloquently in our epistle reading from Romans 8: For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  

There is glory in the world for dying for a righteous person. We’re often selfish, but even the world recognizes the glory of laying down your life for a good cause, whether it be serving in our military or police, someone shielding others from an active shooter. Any of us might be willing to do that. There is a certain glory to it.

But Jesus’ death was much different, he knowingly died for all of us, even for those who put him to death. He died for us, not because we were righteous and worthy of his death, but because we are unrighteous and unworthy. Consider how many do not believe, and in doing so, have made Jesus’ die for them in vain? Yet our Lord did so anyway, so that even a few might be saved.

Have in mind the things of God. It does us no good for Jesus to be glorious in this life, and to make us glorious in this life, only to not open up the gates of eternal paradise for us. No. It was necessary that Jesus take up a cross in this life, and likewise tell us to follow with our own various crosses in this life, so that we might enter the glory of eternal life. Jesus is not the Christ that we sinners want, but he’s the Christ that we need. 

As we bear our crosses now, be on guard of those who twist the Gospel to satisfy the needs of man. Satan has no problem with people following Jesus if he can corrupt Jesus’ message to have us chase glory in this life, rather than glory in the next. Be discerning when you read a Christian book or devotion, or listen to a program online or on TV, or even when you listen to your pastor preach. Whether intentionally or not, it is easy for Satan and our sinful flesh to twist Jesus into a savior who promises us glory and prosperity in this world. Do not fall for it. 

Have in mind the things of God. We do not need a Church of Glory now, but a Church of the Cross. We need a savior who will bear these sins for us, we can’t do it ourselves. And that’s the example we should strive to follow, that we may bear smaller crosses for each other. Jesus teaching us to embrace suffering is foolishness to the world, but it’s wisdom that will bring us to greater glory and peace than we could ever have here.

Jesus is not the Christ that we sinners would want, but he is the Christ that we sinners need. Thanks be to God.

In Jesus’ Name: Amen.